Posts Tagged ‘osprey


Increase in raptor persecution crimes in 2015

The Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) has just published the ‘official’ 2015 raptor persecution data, including their annual persecution hotspot maps.

The PAW Scotland press release can be read here and the hotspot maps can be accessed here.

20 crimes against birds of prey were recorded in 2015, which is an increase on the 18 recorded in 2014. The 2015 crimes included six poisoning incidents, five shootings, five disturbance incidents, three trapping or attempted trapping offences and one case of chick theft. The victims included red kite, peregrine, buzzard, goshawk, osprey and hen harrier. Surprisingly, golden eagle isn’t included in the list. We’ll discuss that below.

Having read the press release and looked at the hotspot maps, four things jumped out at us.

First is the increase in recorded raptor persecution incidents in 2015. It’s only a slight increase, from 18 to 20 recorded crimes, but nevertheless it is still an increase. This is important to note, especially in light of a recent statement made by Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group (funded by the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates). In December 2015, in response to the publication of the RSPB’s 20-year raptor persecution review, Kim said this:

Bird of prey deaths……have fallen dramatically over the last five years in particular“.

At the time, Kim didn’t back up this claim with any evidence and as the 2015 data have now been published, it’s clear why he didn’t. Basically, the evidence wasn’t there. As Head of RSPB Scotland’s Investigation team Ian Thomson says in the latest PAW Scotland press release:

These latest figures make it readily apparent that claims of a decline in the illegal killing of raptors are wholly without foundation“.

This time, Kim isn’t claiming that there has been a decline but he still tries to diminish the problem by saying “annual variations [in the number of reported persecution crimes] are now very small“. Another way of putting it, Kim, would be to say that no progress has been made!

The second thing to jump out at us is perhaps the most concerning of all, and that’s the withholding of data relating to a quarter of the recorded 2015 crimes. If you read the PAW Scotland press release, you’ll notice the following caveat written in the ‘Notes to Editors’ section:

Further details of 5 of the 20 bird of prey crimes recorded in 2015 are currently withheld for police operational reasons. It has therefore not been possible to include the locations of these incidents on the hotspot maps‘.

So here’s one of the maps purporting to show all types of raptor persecution crimes recorded over a three-year period in Scotland (2013-2015). Only it doesn’t show them all, as 25% are missing. Not only are 25% missing, but also missing are details of poisoned baits (no victims present) that were recorded during this period – for some reason they’ve been placed on a separate map. So when you look at this map, ignore the misleading title. It isn’t a map of ‘All Recorded Bird of Prey Crimes Scotland – 2013-2015’, it’s a map of SOME Recorded Bird of Prey Crimes 2013-2015, just the ones we’re allowed to know about.

ALL Raptor crimes 2013 to 2015

The purpose of publishing these annual hotspot maps and their associated data is, according to the PAW Scotland website, ‘to allow all the partner organisations to enter into meaningful discussions and work together to eradicate bad or illegal practices in Scotland‘. Presumably, because the maps and data are also placed in the public domain, the purpose is also to increase transparency and thus public confidence. What is the point of publishing a proportion of the data and withholding the rest? It just makes a mockery of the whole process. Why bother publishing at all?

The caveat in the ‘Notes to Editors’ section goes on to say:

The [withheld] incidents are, however, included in the figures provided in the summary tables accompanying the maps. The maps and background data will be updated, where possible, in future publications‘.

Sounds promising, but when you actually look at the summary tables you find large sections still marked as ‘withheld’:

Confirmed poisonings 2015

ALL raptor crimes 2015

These ‘withheld’ incidents, shrouded in secrecy, make it virtually impossible to cross reference known reported persecution crimes with those being touted as the ‘officially recorded’ crimes, which closes off any opportunity to scrutinise these ‘official’ data to ensure that incidents have not been ‘missed’ or ‘forgotten’ (we’re being kind). In other words, we are expected to accept and trust the ‘official’ data from Police Scotland as being accurate. Sorry, but having seen Police Scotland’s shambolic handling of some wildlife crime incidents we have limited confidence in their ability, either intentionally or unintentionally, to get this right.

This leads us nicely on to the third thing to jump out at us. As mentioned above, we were surprised not to see golden eagle listed as one of the 2015 victims. According to our sources, a traditional golden eagle eyrie was burnt out in 2015 – we blogged about it here. Why wasn’t this incident included in the 2015 PAW data? Or was it included and it was categorised in the ‘withheld’ category? Who knows. Do you see what we mean about the difficulty of cross-referencing known incidents?

The fourth thing to jump out was an entry in Table 5c (see above). The second line down tells us that a red kite was poisoned in Tayside in January 2015. That’s news to us. Does anybody remember seeing anything in the media about this crime? Any appeal for information? Any warning to the public that deadly poison was being used in the area? No, thought not.

The reticence of the police to publicise some of these crimes is deeply concerning, and especially when that suppression extends to details of crimes in ‘official’ reports that are supposed to demonstrate openness and transparency. Ask yourselves, in whose interest is it to keep these crimes under wraps?


More raptors illegally killed in Peak District National Park: police appeal 5 months later

Derbyshire Constabulary has today issued a press release appealing for information following the illegal killing of an Osprey (caught in a spring trap) and a buzzard (shot) that were discovered in the Peak District National Park last September. The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction.

Here’s the press release:

Derbyshire Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the illegal killing of two birds of prey near to Glossop, Derbyshire. A £1000 reward has been offered by the RSPB for information leading to a conviction.

On September 09, 2015, a dead osprey was found to the west of Derbyshire Level. A post mortem on the bird revealed that both its legs had been recently broken, injuries which were consistent with it being caught in a spring trap prior to its death. Ospreys are rare visitors to the Peak District and this one would have been on migration to West Africa.

On September 30, a buzzard was found shot dead close to Hurst Reservoir, only a short distance from where the osprey was found. This follows the shooting of another buzzard in the same area in March 2014.

Sergeant Darren Belfield from Derbyshire police said: “I would appeal to anyone who might have any information as to who may be responsible for these cruel acts to contact the police on 101. The continued persecution of birds of prey in the Peak District is totally unacceptable. If you suspect someone of committing any crimes against wildlife, act now. Your call will be dealt with in confidence. If you don’t feel you can talk to the police, pass the information to us through Crimestoppers by ringing 0800 555 111.”

RSPB Investigations Officer Alan Firth said: “Yet again, we are seeing the senseless killing of fantastic birds of prey in the National Park.”

Last year, the RSPB published its annual Birdcrime Report 2014, which revealed Derbyshire as one of the worst places in the UK for bird of prey persecution. In 2014, the RSPB received 16 reports of bird of prey incidents in the county including a shot buzzard, a shot sparrowhawk and an illegally trapped goshawk.


So these birds were found “close to Hurst Reservoir”. Have a look at this map and see what else is “close to Hurst Reservoir” (reservoir marked with the red pin). See those tell-tale rectangular strips of burnt heather to the south and south-east of the marker? Quelle surprise, it’s driven grouse moor country.

Hurst Reservoir - Copy

You may remember back in November we blogged about the failed ‘Bird of Prey Initiative’ in the Dark Peak region of this National Park. It was a five-year project aimed at restoring the populations of several raptor species in the area and involved various organisations: The Moorland Association, The National Trust, Natural England, Peak District National Park Authority, and the RSPB. None of the targets were met (see here). In response, the Moorland Association and the Peak District National Park Authority said they’d make ‘renewed commitment’ to protect raptors in the National Park (see here). Riiiiiight, that’s working well then.

Interestingly, the failed initiative was widely reported in the local press, including the Derbyshire Times, whose article on 26th November was entitled ‘Birds of prey killed and abused in Derbyshire’. In reponse to that article, Robert Benson, Chairman of the Moorland Association, penned the following letter:

I would like to emphatically state in response to your story, ‘Birds of prey killed and abused in Derbyshire’, on November 26th, that one single bird of prey killed illegally is one too many.

However, the Moorland Association was heartened to see RSPB’s latest bird crime figures show a dramatic cut across the UK. Significant reductions in the illegal trapping of birds of prey represent a 78 per cent drop since 2013, with just four confirmed incidents last year.

Of the 19 prosecutions for wild bird offences, three involved gamekeepers, but none were employed on moorland managed for grouse shooting.

Our members spend £52.5 million a year maintaining and conserving habitats which benefit all moorland wildlife. This year, grouse moor managers in England were praised for their part in the most successful hen harrier breeding season for five years.

Many other threatened species, such as lapwing, curlew, and golden plover – in serious decline elsewhere – are doing well on managed moorland. Not birds of prey, but wild, endangered and important nonetheless.

Wildlife crime is being successfully tackled. We already have a robust wildlife licensing system which needs to be used fairly to manage conflict between rapidly increasing bird of prey populations and legitimate and beneficial land use“. Robert Benson, Chairman, Moorland Association.


So there we have it. According to Robert, everything’s just rosy, grouse moors are great, and there are too many raptors so gamekeepers should be given licences to kill them legally.

The thing is, Robert Benson is not telling the whole story. He’s right to say that there were four confirmed illegal trapping incidents recorded in 2014, but what he ‘forgot’ to mention was that those four incidents were just a fraction of the 478 incidents of illegal raptor persecution recorded in 2014, including 179 reports of illegal shooting and destruction (of which 46 raptors were confirmed victims) and a further 53 confirmed victims of illegal poisoning. Doesn’t sound quite so rosy now, does it, Robert? He also ‘forgot’ to mention that Derbyshire was the 4th worst region in the UK for raptor persecution crimes in 2014. Oh, and he also ‘forgot’ to mention the quote from the National Wildlife Crime Unit:

Intelligence continues to indicate a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management“.

One for you anagram fans: Moorland Association = A sad morons’ coalition.

Here are some photos of the latest victims (photos by RSPB)

An x-ray of the shot buzzard:

shot BZ PDNP Sep 2015 - Copy

The osprey alive, with two smashed up legs:

osprey springtrapped PDNP Sep 2015 - Copy

The osprey dead, with two smashed up legs:

osprey springtrapped 2 - Copy

The osprey’s smashed up right leg:

osprey right leg - Copy


Red kite dies after persecution incident ‘near Tomatin’

rk by David TomlinsonReports have emerged this afternoon that a red kite has died after it was found injured ‘near Tomatin’ on 30 August 2015.

According to a BBC news article (here), ‘Police said its injuries did not appear to have been as a result of natural causes’.

According to an article in the P&J (here), ‘Early examinations of the bird have found its death is not due to natural causes’.

In other words, this kite has been illegally killed but apparently Police Scotland is ‘unable to disclose the nature of the bird’s injuries’ (according to the P&J). So the cause of death has not been revealed, and neither has the location where the injured kite was picked up, other than ‘near Tomatin’. Tomatin is in the heart of driven grouse moor country – just put it in to google maps and look at the amount of muirburn strips that surround the village – this region also has a long track record of raptor persecution on a par with other grouse moor regions such as the Angus Glens.

So, another example of an embarrassingly vague Police Scotland statement in relation to the illegal killing of yet another raptor. It’s the latest in a series of similar cryptic police statements relating to the illegal persecution of raptors:

In September 2010 the police issued a vague appeal for information following the discovery of an osprey in the Highlands that died from what they described as “deliberately inflicted injuries“. It was later reported that the bird had been shot (see here).

In June 2013 a similarly cryptic press release followed the discovery of a dead red kite in Aberdeenshire: “After recovery of the carcass, a post mortem was carried out. This revealed that the bird’s death was not by natural causes“. It was later reported the kite had been shot (see here).

In January 2014, we got more of the same after the discovery of a dead buzzard ‘near the village of Tomatin’. Ooh, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The press statement said: “Police said an examination of the buzzard suggested it had not died of natural causes” (see here). We still don’t know how it was killed.

In June 2014 there was another one, this time a hen harrier found dead near it’s nest in Muirkirk. The police said: “Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened” (see here and here). Guess, what? Turns out it had been shot (see here).

Police Scotland will claim that withholding information about the cause of the death is part of their investigative strategy, because it is ‘specialist knowledge’ that only the perpetrator and any potential witness will know. That’s a legitimate strategy, of course, but given the low likelihood of actually catching anyone for this type of offence it seems like a fairly pointless exercise. It will, though, allow the game shooting lobby to deny all knowledge and refute any suggestion that the bird was killed by anyone associated with that industry.


So what do you reckon? Is the illegal killing of this red kite going to be the crime that finally jolts the Scottish Government in to taking the oft-promised ‘further action if necessary’? Probably not. We’re still waiting to hear the Minister’s response to a question we posed three weeks ago following the discovery of a shot buzzard in the Borders. We asked her how she defined ‘if necessary’? (see here). Her response should make for an interesting read.

Whatever she says, she really does need to start delivering something tangible, and fast.

Red kite photo by David Tomlinson


Killing with impunity: Birdcrime 2013 published

Birdcrime 2013The RSPB has published its latest annual report on crimes against birds in the UK in 2013.

Their press release here.

The killing goes on, with impunity.

76 individual birds & other animals were confirmed illegally poisoned in 2013. This is more than double the figure from 2012 (29 confirmed victims).

Poisoning victims in 2013 included 30 buzzards, 20 red kites, 1 golden eagle and 1 white-tailed eagle.

68 confirmed incidents involved the shooting or destruction of birds of prey. Victims included two hen harriers, two marsh harriers and 5 peregrines.

These are just the confirmed incidents. A total of 338 incidents were reported to the RSPB in 2013, with North Yorkshire once again being the worst location. There’s also a worrying number of incidents from Powys in South Wales, seemingly relating to poisoned baits.

Birdcrime 2013 is a thoroughly depressing read. The RSPB calls on the shooting industry, again, to clean up its act. Judging by the contents of this report, that’s a seemingly futile request.

Well done and thanks to the RSPB for not only compiling these thorough statistics but importantly, for sharing them in the public domain.

Download Birdcrime 2013: Birdcrime 2013

Hen harrier Bowland Betty, found shot dead on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire. (Photo by Natural England).

Bowland Betty


Another dead buzzard in Scotland: another pathetic police response

6754Police Scotland has issued an embarrassingly vague press release following the discovery of a dead buzzard in suspicious circumstances.

According to the BBC report (here), which is presumably based upon the police’s press release, the dead bird was found “near the village of Tomatin in the Highlands” by a member of the public on 9th December 2013.

Police said an examination of the buzzard suggested it had not died of natural causes“.

In other words then, it had been illegally killed. The cause of death has not been mentioned, and nor has the specific location.

Given that Tomatin is in the heart of grouse moor country, and that this area is a well known raptor persecution hotspot on a par with the Angus Glens, we can’t help but question why this press release has been designed to be so deliberately cryptic. Who are the police trying to protect?

It’s not the first time, either. In June 2013 they issued a similarly cryptic press release following the discovery of a dead red kite in Aberdeenshire. They said: “After recovery of the carcass, a post mortem was carried out. This revealed that the bird’s death was not by natural causes“. It was later reported that the kite had been shot (see here).

In September 2010, they issued a vague appeal for information following the discovery of an osprey in the Highlands that died from what they described as “deliberately inflicted injuries“. It was later reported that the osprey had been shot (see here).

Is it any wonder that we’ve lost complete confidence in Police Scotland to investigate this type of wildlife crime? What other offence would trigger such an uninformative police statement? Have you ever seen a police response like it? It’s like a new game show, ‘Guess the Crime’, hosted by Police Scotland: Something illegal happened in the Central Belt four weeks ago. We’re not telling you what it was or where it happened; you’ll have to guess. Anyone with information is asked to contact the police‘.

Public anger over the continued illegal killing of raptors on grouse moors is already at an all-time high following the death of golden eagle ‘Fearnan’ last month, found poisoned in the Angus glens. The police’s continued unwillingness to provide transparency over these investigations is sure to add to that sense of fury. These criminals are getting away time after time, and it’s not hard to see why.

If you want to express your frustration and dissatisfaction with the way Police Scotland are behaving during these wildlife crime ‘investigations’ (and we use that term loosely), please email Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse and ask him for an explanation:

We know that hundreds of you emailed him just before Xmas following the death of golden eagle Fearnan. Don’t underestimate how powerful that volume of messages from the public can be.


RSPB Scotland publishes 2012 persecution report

sam4RSPB Scotland has today published its annual persecution report which documents the known and suspected incidents of  illegal raptor killing throughout Scotland in 2012.

It’s a shame it’s taken so long to get it published, but that minor criticism aside, massive kudos and appreciation to them for their continued meticulous collection of these data and especially their willingness to publish them. Without these reports the general public, and probably the government, would be unaware of exactly what’s going on in our countryside. If we relied upon the ‘official’ figures (i.e. those ‘approved’ by the likes of Scottish Land & Estates, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Police Scotland etc) we wouldn’t know the half of it.

The 2012 report, just like all the previous 18 reports, makes for grim reading. Sure, it documents a reduction in the number of birds known to have been illegally poisoned last year; some people (guess who?) have spent much of 2013 shouting about this as being evidence of the game-shooting industry cleaning up its act – we know better – the 2013 figures (to date) show no such reduction and in fact show an increase in known poisoning incidents…but more of that next year. Let’s focus on the 2012 report for now.

Three things caught our attention in this report. The first thing was the Foreword by Stuart Housden, RSPB Scotland Director. This is the hardest-hitting Foreword of his that we’ve read. In the past it’s been a bit wishy-washy, with too many platitudes aimed at the landowning and gamekeeping communities and suggestions that the raptor killers are just an unrepresentative minority. This time it’s quite different:

It is evident that a significant number of individuals or estates illegally persecute birds of prey“.

Is this subtle change of language an indication that RSPB Scotland is tiring of the whole ‘partnership-working’ pretensions? Let’s hope so.

The second thing to catch our attention was an entry in Table 3 (page 24): Confirmed incidents of illegal killing or attempted killing (excluding poisoning) of birds of prey in Scotland, 2012

The entry of interest is this:

‘February. Buzzard caught in illegal spring trap. Nr Edzell, Angus’.

There isn’t any further detail about this incident, and it certainly hasn’t been publicised by the Police (no surprise there). However, for reasons that we can’t go in to right now, we are particularly interested in the details of this incident and would ask any blog reader with specific information to contact us, in confidence:

The third thing that caught our attention was the Case Study: Poisoning in Progress (pages 19-20). This case relates to the discovery of poisoned corvids and poisoned bait found in the Borders in May 2012.

We’d blogged about this case in Sept 2012, criticising the Police for not publicising the discovery of poisoned birds and poisoned bait (see here). We also blogged about it in October this year, after the incident was excluded from the ‘raptor persecution’ section in the  Government’s ‘official’ 2012 Wildlife Crime Report (see here). We asked blog readers to contact the Environment Minister and ask why this incident had been excluded. Here is part of the reply received by one of our readers:

You ask why a bird poisoning incident was omitted from the Scottish Government’s first annual report into wildlife crime. I can advise you that the incident in question was not listed in the section on raptor crime because no raptors were involved“.

Now, have a read of the Case Study in the RSPB’s report. Guess what was found at the scene? “The feathers and bones of two dead buzzards, lying beside the old, dried-out carcases of two rabbits, in a wood beside a partridge rearing pen. A dead crow was also found a short distance away“.

That’s a pretty clear indication that raptors were indeed involved.

According to the Case Study report, the rabbits were covered in dead insects (a sure indication of the presence of poison) and they were submitted for toxicology analysis, along with the crow. The buzzards were not submitted as they were considered too decomposed.

The results – all contained the pesticide Bendiocarb.

There was no police follow-up, no search, no nothing. Why not, when there was clear evidence of long-term poisoning at the site? And even better, the site is a very well-known raptor persecution blackspot in the Borders, where many other poisoned raptors have previously been discovered.

It’s just the same old familiar pattern, same shit, same locations, different year. The sooner the Government launches its public consultation on increasing the powers of the SSPCA to allow them to investigate raptor persecution, the better. (Where is that consultation anyway? We heard it would be launched in mid-Oct. No sign yet…)

Anyway, well done and thanks again to RSPB Scotland – funny, lots of poisoning, trapping and shooting incidents but not a single ‘death by tree’ report!!

Download the report: The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2012


Buzzards eat stuff, it has emerged

no eatingShocking new footage has emerged that shows that buzzards eat stuff.

This is outrageous“, said Don McMoron of We Own Scotland. “Not only does this prove that buzzards eat stuff, which is bad enough, but they think they’ve got the right to eat anything that takes their fancy. That’s totally unacceptable and we’re calling on the government to convene an urgent summit to decide what buzzards can and can’t eat”.

Albert Hogburn of the Modern Poisoners Society said: “Aye, I watched the video last night. Did you see that bird in the tweed hot pants with the fantastic tits? Oh…it’s not that video you’re talking about? Er, sorry, got to go, I’ve left some milk on the boil…Er, #TeamPoison all the way, lads”.

In case there’s any doubt, the above is a parody. This, however, is not.

UPDATE: 16.30hrs. An excellent blog on this by Alan Tilmouth (here). He’s also been having an amusing conversation with SLE’s Doug McAdam on Twitter.

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